After the Denver Broncos, CBS may be the biggest beneficiary of Tim Tebow-mania.
Tebow, who has helped the Broncos to five fourth-quarter comeback wins since taking over as starting quarterback midway through the National Football League season, may draw record audiences again for CBS tomorrow, when his team faces the New England Patriots in the second round of the playoffs.
Denver's 29-23 overtime upset against the favored Pittsburgh Steelers averaged 42.4 million viewers on CBS -- a wild-card playoff game record and a windfall for sponsors such as PepsiCo. That victory game put the Broncos two wins away from their first Super Bowl in 13 years. CBS Corp., with the biggest regular-season ratings drop among broadcasters, is beating its rivals in the playoffs.
"There's nothing quite equal to Tebow-mania," Dan Dierdorf, a CBS NFL analyst and former offensive lineman, said in an interview. "All I hear on ESPN and other sports channels is Tim Tebow. I've had to hit the mute button to get away from it all."
Since winning the 2007 Heisman Trophy as college football's top player, Tebow has been a regular topic on ESPN's "SportsCenter" and talk radio. The quarterback, whose father is a Baptist pastor, appeared with his mother in a 2010 Super Bowl commercial on CBS for Focus on the Family, which opposes abortion.
The 24-year-old's practice of kneeling in brief prayer after victories has been nicknamed "Tebowing" and led to an internet craze.
Tebow and the Broncos are 13.5-point underdogs against New England, which had the American Football Conference's best regular-season record at 13-3. If they stay close to the Patriots and quarterback Tom Brady, the audience may exceed last weekend's total.
"If the game is as exciting as the Broncos-Steelers last weekend, it will be even a larger number," said Brad Adgate, research director at Horizon Media . "The longer people tune in, the higher the overall audience."
The Broncos had a 16-7 lead against the Patriots in their Dec. 18 meeting in Denver before committing three second-quarter turnovers; they lost 41-23, snapping a six-game winning streak.
Audiences for regular-season football games on the CBS network, Comcast's NBC, News Corp.'s Fox and Walt Disney Co.'s ESPN slid 2.1% from a year earlier, according to Nielsen Co. data from Horizon Media .
The audience for cable's ESPN shrank almost 10%. CBS, which broadcasts smaller-market AFC teams, saw its audience decline 1.5%, to an average 18.4 million viewers, a bigger drop than for the other over-the-air networks, Fox and NBC, Horizon said. Last weekend's Broncos game drew 49% more viewers than the year-earlier matchup, CBS said.
-- Bloomberg News --